Jesse Hilton Stuart wrote some thirty books about Kentucky during his lifetime. He crafted his love for his home state into poetry, novels, and the numerous short stories for which he is especially famous. He wrote two autobiographical works in addition to The Thread That Runs So True, Beyond Dark Hills (1938) and The Year of My Rebirth (1956). The first of these, Beyond Dark Hills, was truly an exploration of self. During Stuart’s year of graduate study at Vanderbilt University, his English instructor had assigned a “brief autobiography” with an eighteen-page limit. In eleven days, Stuart wrote 322 pages, “from margin to margin,” because “I couldn’t tell Dr. Edwin Mims what I wanted to tell him in eighteen pages.” The manuscript was eventually published as his fourth book.
The Thread That Runs So True appeared after many of Stuart’s stories and novels had been published. Like his fiction, it incorporates a profound love for nature, an appreciation for the soft rhythm and colorful metaphor of the Kentucky hill people’s speech, and a pride in human accomplishment. The audience for this work, however, was very different. In a post-World War II world, Stuart was making an eloquent and pointed protest to those who controlled the fate of public education in Kentucky and across the nation. The son of an illiterate father and a mother with only a second-grade education, Stuart wrote in his 1958 preface to The Thread That Runs So True, “I know as surely as I live and breathe the positive proof of what education can do for a man.” This work, then, is at once a plea for education and a testimony to its power. In it, Stuart acknowledges the important encouragement he received from his parents, teachers, and students: “I felt I could repay them by inspiring other youth. This means more to me than all the money in the world.”
Stuart’s natural ability as a writer is especially apparent in this book, with its skillful combination of narrative and analytical prose. It is a work that functions effectively at three levels. At its most basic, it is masterful storytelling. The characters described are interesting and recognizable; their conversation is colorful and holds attention. At this level, The Thread That Runs So True is a collection of integrated short stories, perfect for schoolchildren and readers of all ages. It allows readers to compare the problems of the Kentucky schoolchildren with their own and to be inspired by what these children were able to accomplish, despite the most primitive and impoverished circumstances. As Stuart intended, these stories are testimony to the love of learning. Just as important, they are fun and dramatic. As single selections or as a whole, The...
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